17 Work, Money, And Life Lessons I Learned In 2017

Axel Holen

Many people stop reading books as soon as they graduate school. Don’t be one of them. My 9-5 job involves a lot of heavy reading, but I still make time to read outside of work. I mostly fit this in by reading on the subway to and from work, as well as setting aside 30 to 60 minutes before bed. I enjoy reading anything from crime fiction to political theory.

2. Control your money before it controls you.

Financial literacy is your responsibility. Yes, your parents may not have taught you about money management as much as they should have, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take the time to learn now. There are hundreds of personal finance blogs online that provide amazing financial advice for free. Once you learn the basics: budgeting, investing, building an emergency fund, and saving for retirement, you’ll feel much more empowered.

3. You can be rich and still be someone no one respects or wants to be around.

There is no amount of money in the world that will hide a terrible personality. No one wants to be around someone who boasts about their leased BMW or their detached house that they put a 10% downpayment on. Accumulation of wealth still does not guarantee a happy and fulfilled life.

4. In order to be great at anything, you must practice it every single day.

There is no single moment that suddenly shifts you from being unsuccessful to successful. Whatever craft you’ve chosen, you have to practice it on a daily basis. Some days you will be bursting with motivation, other days it will be the last thing you want to be do. You can’t rely on motivation, you have to focus on the big picture — what is this all for. If you work on your craft every single day, there is literally no way that you won’t improve.

5. Your time is precious.

There are only so many hours in a day. But with smart time management skills, these hours are more than enough. Set a routine. I wake up almost every weekday at 5:30AM – 5:45AM, make coffee using my french press, and then sit down in front of my laptop. In the stillness of the morning, I write a new piece for my blog. Sometimes it’s quality content, other times it’s garbage that requires a serious amount of editing. After about an hour, I take a shower, eat breakfast and get ready for work. Around 5PM, I’ll return home from work and check up on my blog, eat dinner, spend time with my girlfriend, read a book and then head to bed. Occasionally, I’ll fit in a run either before or after work too. On the weekends, I spend a couple hours a day writing. A good week usually involves 20 – 25 devoted to strictly writing.

6. Wake up early.

It’s the hardest but most beneficial habit to incorporate into your daily routine. My most productive work days at my 9 – 5 job usually involved an early morning where I was able to enjoy my coffee, write for an hour and sit in silence before the craziness of the day.

7. Confidence is not innate, it needs to be developed.

About a year ago, I changed jobs. It was a steep learning curve. I had to attend mediations before various administrative tribunals, something that I had never done before. The Art of Mediation uses a completely different skillset then conducting a hearing. You have to appear reasonable and open-minded to both the mediator and opposing party, all the while trying to cut the best deal of your client.

During my first mediation, I was very nervous. Can people tell that this is my first time? I had to fake confidence. And boy, did I fake it.

My second mediation was much easier and came more natural to me. I had gone through the motions before, and knew what to expect. Most importantly, I learned when to be assertive and when to be conciliatory. All forms of confidence.

Like any other skill, confidence can be easily acquired through practice. In my experience, there is absolute truth in “faking it until you making it.” Don’t worry if you’re not an immediately confident person in every scenario that life throws your way. No one is.

8. Patience is the key to success.

I’m a very impatient person.

This year I learned that no goal worth striving for will come easy or immediately. This can be applied to paying off debt, landing your dream salary, and even developing the skills that you work so hard to perfect. Instead, focus on the small wins and hold tight to the big picture — the time will pass quickly enough, and the goals will soon be attained.

9. Experiment with lots of different things and embrace failure.

Don’t settle for a comfortable life — try as many things as possible. Whatever hobbies, interests or skills that you have, pursue them vigorously and see where they take you. This applies to your personal or professional life. We tend to emulate others who appear to have their life figured out. But what works for them may not work for you. Don’t chase someone else’s dream life.

This year, I decided to work on something I love to do — write. I’m still developing my writing voice, learning what works and what doesn’t, all the while publishing these musings online. In the past two and a half months, thousands of people have read my writing. But who knows what will happen. My readership could rapidly expand or all of a sudden disappear overnight. But whether my blog fails or grows is beside the point. I love writing. And it would be silly for me not to pursue my interest.

10. Your uniqueness is your strength.

There is no one in this world who is identical to you. Use that to your advantage.

As a millennial, I have a unique perspective.
As a woman of colour, I have a unique perspective.
As someone who identifies as queer, I have a unique perspective.
As a legal aid lawyer, I have a unique perspective.

I consider these strengths, not weaknesses.

Whatever makes you stand out, cherish it, own it, and capitalize on it. Don’t strive to blend into the crowd, fight hard to stand out.

11. Happiness comes from within.

Stop looking at what others have. Self-reflection is the key to happiness. Take some time to think about what a successful life means to you. Take out a piece of paper and write a long list. Quietly begin to work towards those things. And whenever you feel yourself playing the comparison thing, refer back to that list for guidance and support. You’re not in a competition with anyone but yourself. Push yourself to be better than who you were yesterday.

12. Push your own boundaries.

Throw more money towards your debt than you think you can handle.
Save more than you think you’ll need.
Forego purchasing things that are still within your budget.

This isn’t to necessarily torture yourself, but to remind yourself that it’s important to practice being uncomfortable. There is something magical about voluntary hardship. Push your boundaries. The results will surprise you.

13. The best gift you can give someone is attention.

In today’s digital age, our focus is fleeting. Whenever you’re spending time with a friend or family member, put your phone away and actively engage in the conversation. A deep conversation will always leave both parties feeling gratified and replenished. The best gift that you can give someone is the feeling that they’ve been heard.

14. Money can’t buy effort.

Related to the last point — receiving an expensive gift from your loved one is nice, but waking up to a clean apartment and your favourite home-cooked dinner is definitely better. People enjoy being spoiled by effort, not possessions. Anyone can go to a mall during lunch and buy something, few would get off the couch and toil in the kitchen for 3 hours so their girlfriend can be surprised with her favourite meal after a long day at work.

15. Learn from people that are different from you.

I am so grateful for my current job, because I am forced to check my privilege every single day. Think you’re struggling with money? Talk to a single mom on welfare. Most of us have some form of privilege. It’s our responsibility to use our skills and platform to empower those facing unjust socioeconomic barriers. But It all starts with listening to people who are different than us.

One simple method: follow people on social media who are unlike you — in race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and more. You’ll be surprised as what you can learn every day just by scrolling through your Twitter feed.

16. Invest in experiences, not things.

For Valentine’s Day this year, my girlfriend and I decided to make sushi at home. We spent a total of $20 for all the ingredients. We didn’t buy each other presents. It was relaxing, intimate and wildly entertaining.

For our 2 year anniversary, we splurged for an afternoon at the spa. Again, no presents were exchanged. All we wanted was a couple of hours where we had each other’s undivided attention. We splashed around the pool. Chilled in the hot tub. Had amazing 45 minute massages. And enjoyed a nice dinner in the adjacent restaurant. What more could one ask for? (Best yet — our massages were covered by our health benefits through work).

17. Learning about money is simple, but understanding our feelings around it is complicated.

It’s funny, I started blogging to primarily share my personal experience with personal finances, but my writing has grown to encapsulate so much more. Personal finance doesn’t live within its own ecosystem. It’s related to our values, habits and lifestyle. Money is, after all, just paper — it’s the values that are inextricably associated with it that’s so difficult to understand. Money is about health, security and prosperity. Which leads to a whole lost difficult questions. Why do men make more than women? Why do we pay for some labour but not others? Why do we have a growing gap of inequality? And for me: why can I afford a nice apartment and a fridge full of food while some of my clients can’t?

Anyways, these are just some lessons that I’ve learned over the past year. Although we still have another month to go, I’ll be using December to look forward, not backwards, as to what I hope to accomplish in 2018. Mainly, becoming debt free and writing more.

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